A Kiwi couple's cruising adventures on America's Great Loop and around the coast of New Zealand

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Putting the record straight

When I began this blogsite, I decided to put stuff about the issues with the boat as information to other boaties, particularly those from eslewhere than the USA. From some of the comments I have had from friends in New Zealand, I may have given the impression that we have had a lot of trouble with Loopy Kiwi, when in fact the opposite (so far) is true. Sure, we had the problems with the inverter installation, but most of the subsequent issues have been to do with my attempts to "fine tune" the electrical system to make her behave more like a NZ boat so we can anchor out more often. Regretably, like many other US boats, there is only so far you can go without major expenditure so you have to do the math and weigh up the benefits of spending too much more. For example, a $2000 outlay represents 30-40 nights stay in marina's or 2000 hours of running the genset and there comes a time it is uneconomical to spend more money. The modifications to date were mainly to add convenience and safety and I am satisfied that I undertook them. Although running a generator as a matter of course is quite foreign to me, it is not at all unusual over here. When we bought the boat the engines had done 225 hours and the generator 340. The engines are now at 400 hours and the genset 380, so I have been fairly frugal with it. However, as we intend to anchor out a lot more in future, I will be racking up a few more hours on it yet...so in the words of a dear friend in New Zealand, as far as running a generator is concerned, I will have to just "get over it". 

While we were at Aqua Yacht Harbor on Lake Pickwick, I ran into one of the brokers I was dealing with during the boat buying trip. He asked me if, knowing what I now know about the Loop, would I still have bought Loopy Kiwi. My answer was an unequivocal "yes" as I am yet to come across another boat that would suit us more for our intended use. After almost 5 months of living aboard, we have never felt cramped for space and many visitors have remarked on the huge interior volume that we enjoy. There are things that I would like to be different, but most of the alternatives didn't have them either. The thing I miss most is my gas cooking, but there are very few late model boats here that have that as an option, and adding it fits into the "do the math" category. So ......I am getting over it.

Having put the record straight, lets get on with the travelogue:

We left Aqua and headed downstream and through the Tenn-Tom's "Diversion Cut" where 150 million cubic yards of earth were removed to join the Tennessee and Tombigbee rivers, and thus the waterway. This is more dirt than when they built the Panama Canal and is the largest earthmoving project in the history of mankind. The big dam that was built a little further downstream created a lake (Bay Springs Lake) that had deep and beautiful anchorages.
We stopped in a cove called Five Finger Cove and it was so nice that we stayed an extra night after spending the next day perusing the rest of the lake.

I had bought a clip-on extension for the boarding ladder as the standard one didn't go far enough into the water to be useful, so Carolyn was able to go for a swim and get back on the boat.

We spent the next night at a marina and used their courtesy car to drive to Tupelo, but we didn't go to Elvis' birthplace for previously stated obvious reasons.
The following day was the James Whitten lock, with a drop of 85 feet - the biggest so far - which was pretty awesome when you're at the bottom.

There were 2 more locks that day with a total drop of 150ft of the 341 feet in difference in water levels between Pickwick lake and the sea. We stayed in another marina that night as there are very few anchorages below the James Whitten Lock. This one had a lot of "flooded timber" close by, which is the term used for the stands of forest that remained after they were flooded after the dams had been built.
The following day there were 3 more locks and another stay in a marina, at Aberdeen, Mississippi  which was a cute spot off the main river, but VERY skinny water going in. In fact we touched bottom twice with the depth sounder showing 2.2ft. We were sent to an interesting restaurant about 7 miles out of town, called the "Friendship House". While there was a sign on the main road for the restaurant, when you drove down the side road, all there was was a big tin shed with a neon sign "open" that was the establishment. I guess all the locals just know where it is. It was good food and I think we were the first Kiwis that had ever visited.
The next stop was Columbus Marina, Mississippi, after 2 more locks. We decided to stay a couple of days as we intended to have a look around - Columbus was a hospital town during the Civil War so was spared from the ravages and burning that destroyed many of the other towns in the South and there are a lot of Antebellum (latin for "before the war") homes still standing.

 Later we heard from our cruising buddy JADE, who was on his way down river, so we booked in for another 3 days to wait until they arrived, as they like anchoring out and are great company when we do as well. In the meantime, Hurricane Sandy had nade her presence felt by producing strong winds and cold temperatures, and by the time JADE arrived yesterday, with seven other Loopers, the Northerly made for some very interesting docking procedures. Today we provisioned up and intend to get underway tomorrow to Demopolis, Alabama, stopping at 2 anchorages along the way. Here's where we are now....

 Next posting will possibly be from Mobile, Alabama, as there is not a lot of civilisation in the 335 miles between here and there.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Chattanooga and its Choo Choo

I had bought some more stuff from Amazon, and it had all arrived by the time we got to Aqua Yacht Harbor, so they knew we were coming. There was quite a contingent of folk that knew of us and the first couple of days we met all sorts of people who had been following our blog, from other loopers, to one of the brokers I met during the boat buying trip. To try and improve the DC system performance while at anchor, I had bought some LED festoon bulbs for the achor light which will reduce the power consumption for that by about 90%. I also decided that we could be having a problem with the way the batteries were being recharged while under way as the start batteries could be regulating the charge rate down before the house batteries were fully recharged. To overcome this, I have rewired the DC system so that one engine (Pete) charges the start batteries and the other (Stan) charges the house. We'll see if this improves the system capability if we anchor out two successive nights or more.

Loopers we had been cruising along with left early in the week and for a day we were alone again. Then the next lot started arriving, most of them bound for the AGLCA rendez-vous at Joe Wheeler State Park, another 65 mile or so diversion up the Tennessee river. This included Bert and Hilary who stayed one night and left for Florence marina 50 miles further up, and we decided we would go with them and do our trip to Chattanooga from there. However since a lot of Loopers were heading that way, we thought it prudent to ring and make a booking at the marina, as there not a lot of options if it was full. I began ringing at 9.15 and rang 16 times by 11.00, at which time I gave up as I was sick of hearing a sourthern female voice message tell me "you have reached Florence Harbor marina" (when I quite clearly had NOT) or an engaged signal. I decided it was too late to leave by then for the 5 hour trip upstream, so we reverted to plan A. We found out later that the sole-charge manager of the marina had gone shopping at Walmart for 3 hours that morning, hence no answer!

We picked up the car from Corinth MS on tuesday night and got an early start for the 4 hour drive to Chatanooga on wednesday. To get there we drove through Mississippi, crossed into Alabama, then Tennessee, into Georgia for about 10 miles, then back into Tennessee. Some of the country, particularly around Alabama, is quite like parts of New Zealand and I could easily imagine that we were driving down the Napier-Taupo road, or parts of the Wairerapa - other than the 4 lane highways and being on the wrong side of the road. And the road kill is somewhat different. We saw a fox, a coyote, a skunk, a deer, several squirrels and lots of armadillos lying beside the road. Only one cat, though and no possums, rabbits or Pukekoes! We also crossed into the Eastern time zone as we went through the Georgia part, so we lost an hour, arriving at 3.00pm.

Chattanooga is surrounded by high hills and is quite different topography from what we have seen so far. We drove around the city, and took in the highlights before returning to our motel out toward the SE, after a little shopping (Walmart - of course). After weeks of it getting dark at 6.00pm, it was strange still having daylight at almost 8.00.
The Chattanooga Choo Choo, which is a hotel, now
Even wierder was it not getting light until after 8.00am the next day. We headed back down the hills to Huntsville, Alabama, where the Redstone rocket arsenal lives, and where a lot of the hardware for the US space program was developed. There is a large space museum and space camp there and in many ways, it rivals or betters, its equivalents at Kennedy and Johnson - which I have also visited. The Saturn V rocket display is awesome and I think they have the only one that stands upright. Like most things, you really need to be there to appreciate the feel of the place, but here are a few pix to try, anyway.

The last pic shows a Chinook chopper flying by which had some mean looking appendages. There must have been an airbase close by as we also saw a Starlifter doing circuits and bumps as we drove west. We returned to the marina to find the transient slip full although with no-one we knew. Some of our previous travel companions were at another marina a few miles away and are leaving today for the rendez-vous as well. I will get a few more jobs done -.the aluminium handle on the sliding window in the salon came off this morning when I tried to open it. It wasn't held on very well....
that's all the silicone that was on it so its a wonder it stayed on as long as it did. Maybe Silverton were running out of silicone that day, or it had gotten too expensive. So I've got to glue that back on and also glue a patch over a hole in the shower wall where I took the bath spout out.

On the subject of aluminium, you all know that here it is pronounced aloominum. I was told it was because it is too hard to say it with the "i" in it. Well now its official, and the US has rewritten the periodic table of elements, because it is now spelt aluminum over here. Really..it is written on beer cans that way and even on a sign for an aluminium plant on the way to Chattanooga. So wait for the rest of the changes....helum, radum, iridum, uranum and all the other "iums" will have to go as well. I guess soon they'll be calling the grouped together housing units apartments and condoominums.

Well, there's the update. Its a nice clear sunny day today but nice and cool as well. We'll probably head off down the Tenn-Tom waterway in the next few days to keep ahead of the rush from the rendez-vous, who all have to come back this way

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Bugs and other wildlife.

There are a lot of bugs in the USA. The most annoying so far (although technically not a bug) are the spiders. They are just everywhere and re-inhabit your boat within minutes of you cleaning the previous tenants off. As someone told me, cleaning your boat is like putting out the VACANCY sign on a motel for spiders. At first I thought they were kind of cute and used to watch them in the evening dutifully spinning their webs, which I thoiught would be good for catching the flying biting insects. It reminded me of the story on Robert the Bruce, hiding from the English in his cave in Scotland and watching a spider persistent in spinning its web, and deciding that he needed to be just as persistent to wrestle the Scottish throne back from the English. They were cute until I found out that the insects they devoured got pooped out the other end and that poop was brown, sticky and really hard to get off...and there was gallons of it!!!!!! By the time we got to Green Turtle Bay, the whole boat was covered in it and it took 3 hours to clean it all off - only to have them move in again almost immediately.  It is now war on spiders   -   I have bought a can of "spider and scorpion (?!?)" spray and they regularly get a dose. Squashing them just makes a bigger mess to clean up. Although we have found them all over the USA - even floating on their silken parachutes halfway across Lake Michigan - we have found that there is less infestation when you anchor out, which is another good reason to do so.

Then there are the Mozzies. We encountered them the first time when we anchored at Quiver Island in the Illinois river. I was cleaning down the landing board (swim platform) and they were thick around me. The strange thing was that, unlike what happens in New Zealand, I didn't get a single bite. Even more peculiar and again totally contrary to what happens at home, Carolyn got savaged by them and came up in itchy welts for days afterwards. This has been the way it has been ever since - fine for me but she gets regularly bitten. Even Dennis, our Kiwi friend who visited us in Green Turtle and is a mozzie magnet at home, didn't get bitten in the whole week he stayed with us. It appears that here they like women and not men - the opposite of New Zealand.....but we are in the Northern Hemisphere after all. Even the moon is upside down (and water goes down the plughole the wrong way....yada yada yada)

So far I am unaware of the dreaded "noseeums" - a type of blood sucking sandfly that sounds similar to the ones famous on New Zealands West Coast (where they don't bite, they pick you up and carry you off to their lair to eat you later). If they have been around I haven't seen them (but you wouldn't expect to with a name like  that, would you?) and there has been no evidence of their biting prowess so far - or maybe I am also immune to them as well. I hope so. My only run-in with the insects so far has been when I picked up the outboard to put it on the dinghy and found a small wasp had decided to take up residency on the handle. It got me on the fleshy bit of the palm between my thumb and forefinger and (funnily enough) stung like hell for 2 days, and still itches after 4. The wasp perished, courtesy, of around 155 kilonewtons of downward pressure from my foot.
The one thing that I find surprising is that they don't have "Robocan" type automatic insect spray systems here. They have plenty that dispense scented deodorants, but non that I can find that dispense insecticides and nobody we have spoken to has ever heard of it in the USA. I would consider bringing some from NZ as it would be the best thing for keeping insects at bay in the boat, but you wouldn't be able to ship the replacement aerosols as they are classed as "dangerous goods" and can't be shipped on planes.

While we were at Green Turtle, we also saw our first wild snake. It was a non venemous water snake (according to the internet) and Carolyn got a pic of it. It is not a good pic so I have put a ring around its position - but it is there - really!
So far we have seen the wildlife previously reported, but we have also seen a coyote, a Muskrat, minks, chipmunks, lots and lots of squirrels and 1 (dead) beaver in one of the locks. But we didn't get pix of any of them. Lots of birds - Geese, Pelicans, Storks and even Bald eagles and there are nests in all sorts of places that must drive the owners of the structures nuts. Like on top of the solar panels that provide power for the lights on navigational markers. The most common wildlife we have encountered are the local fishos (fishermen) and they are a species of their own that deserve a separate posting.
Our last posting was from Pebble Isle Marina and we stayed there for two nights. The owners, Tammy and Randy, couldn't have been more hospitable and they made us feel like we were staying in their home. They arranged some spare parts for our engines that were there the next day, they provided sattelite connection and decoders instead of cable, they had a great courtesy car and reasonable priced diesel @ $4 a gallon. The restaurant right at the dock had such good food we ate there both nights. They also provided a complimetary cinnamon bun breakfast for Loopers, and because I don't do cinnamon, they cooked me sausage and biscuits (scones), and then even delivered a bun to Carolyn on the boat. When we left, we felt like we had known them for years and casting off was very difficult. Apparently they have had people that have come to stay for a night and finish up there for several years - I can understand why.

About 10 miles further upstream, Kentucky Lake effectively ends and we were back in the rivers again. The current picks up, and anchorages are up side creeks or behind islands. We anchored out with JADE for the next 2 nights, even though there are plenty of marinas in this stretch of the river. There are also lots and lots of houses along the banks of the river, and some of them are veritable mansions. They are also built high up the banks and the ones by the riverside and on the built up levies, are built on stilts, or block basements that have floor levels way above the land - which indicates how high the river can run in flood conditions. The further upriver we went the higher they seemed to build and by the time we reached Savannah, just downstream of Pickwick Lock and Dam, there were 2 stories below floor level.

The current continued to pick up as we went upstream and by the time we neared the lock we were struggling to get 6 knots of forward speed at 8.5 knots of hull speed. Pickwick Lock was our first lock through in over a month and was the most turbulent one we have been through so far. I had to restart the engines and use them to keep the stern against the wall during the 55ft lift. Now we are in Pickwick Lake at Aqua Yacht harbor where we plan on staying and getting a rental car to drive to Chattanooga and see some other sights while we are here.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Anchoring and drowned bikes

Well...we finished up staying a couple more days at Green Turtle before I managed to lever Carolyn away from there. The weather hadn't been nice (cold cold cold and wet) and we had gone shopping with Hilary and Bert and had bought a nice pork roast that we just had to share with them so, we finally got away last Tuesday. We had decided to spend a few days anchoring out around Kentucky Lake to see how the extra batteries worked out, and spent the first night in a delightful little Bay called Sugar Bay. When we arrived, we came across JADE, a trawler from Brazil that we had first met way back in Frankfort and had come across from time to time during our journey. Jack and Denise (Ja..de, get it?) had been travelling since 2003 from Brazil to the USA and now the Great Loop with their small dog and recent addition, Beatrice, their three year old daughter. They anchor out a lot and we enjoyed their company for a BBQ on Loopy Kiwi that night. We were also entertained by fisho's from the nearby boat ramp and a photoshoot of a model on the point just on dusk (hence the blurry pic) and a small dinosaur that came down to the lake for a drink.

The next day we kind of "buddied up" with Jade, and have stuck together since then. That day we stopped further down the lake at Ginger Bay, another superb spot, where we were treated to a dramatic sunset.
A lot of Loopers we have spoken to do not anchor much at all and for a variety of reasons. It is a shame as they are missing out on so much. The first night the inverter stopped working in the early hours of the morning from low voltage, despite the additional batteries. I figured that it could be a voltage drop thing, rather than insufficient storage so the second night I turned off the fridge and freezer and the inverter stayed on all night. This is now the strategy and it seems to work well.

The next couple of nights were spent in a marina in Paris Landing State Park, and this was a pleasant marina with all the mod cons at a very reasonable rate of 70 cents a foot (of boat length) per night. The first day we were there, it clouded over and began to rain in the afternoon and in the evening a strong wind suddenly hit us for a short time. Both we and Jade had been out on our bikes in the afternoon and had left them on the dock in case we went out again the following day. At 10pm I decided to bring in our flag which was flapping against the windows and found when I got on the landing board, that both bikes were missing. The first thought was that they had been stolen, but then I remembered the wind. I grabbed our boat hook and reached as far into the water on the downwind side of the dock as I could and after a few minutes of "fishing", I felt something solid. This turned out to be Carolyn's bike, which I managed to get back up onto the dock. However, despite another 10 minutes of trying, I could not locate mine. I then noticed that Jade's bikes were also gone so I went to alert Jack, but found one of theirs aboard. When Jack came out, however, he told me he was sure the other one had gone into the water in front of his boat and he thought he could see it on his forward looking sonar. We decided to leave it and resume the search the next day with a grappling hook.

The following day I tried again for my bike but could not actually reach the lake bottom. I noticed that Carolyn's bike had mud only on the handlebars and seat and it had obviously sunk upside down with the wheels facing toward the surface (probably because of the large tyres) which is why I had been able to snare it so easily. I figured mine was probably lying on its side and my hook was not long enough to reach it. So I managed to borrow a longer boat hook from the Park guys and after a few minutes hit something solid on the bottom. At first it wouldn't move so we thought it might be one of the anchors holding the dock in place, so we tried elsewhere. After no success, we returned to the solid object and found it gradually lifted and when it reached the surface...it was the runaway bike, coated in the mud into which it had sunk! The same process in front of Jade resulted in Jack's bike, along with Beatrice's trailer, being returned to the dock. A thorough wash and a spray with WD40 left them no worse for wear (although a ride later produced rather a wet backside)....thank heavens they fell into fresh water.

Last night we stayed in another super spot, Little Crooked Creek, which used to flow into the Tennessee river but is now a sheltered bay just off the lake. Today we have arrived at Pebble Isle Marina, where we went shopping (Walmart, of course) and may stay a couple of days before continuing towards Pickwick Lake.

I said in an earlier post that we had bought an app that turned our iPad into a chart plotter. Once we had downloaded all the maps from Navionics, it has been our main navigational aid during the rest of the journey (yes - I have paper charts as well). The maps are very detailed and even have contour lines in the rivers that have turned out to be very accurate when tested against our depth sounder. A couple of times it has behaved weirdly with the boat location going off the map several times, but I put it down to the Navionics maps being incorrect and it was particularly noticeable in the Cumberland river. The details on the charts are very complete, even down to submerged towns, roadways, railways and bridges that are legacies of Kentucky Lake being flooded.
There are roads railway lines and bridges 50ft UNDER this bridge.

This grain warehouse used to be on the banks of the Tennessee river
I showed it to Jake and he downloaded the app from Navionics and it seemed to work well. However when he was out of WiFi range, the icon showing the boat would not move, as it does on ours. It was as though his iPad's GPS was not switched on and no matter what we did we could not get it to work as ours did. Today at Walmart we found the reason. His does not have 3G and without it, it can only locate its position from WiFi hotspots. So no WiFi....no location. But then we were also told that even the 3G iPad does not actually have satellite GPS built in as I understood it did. Apparently it gets its "GPS" position from cellphone towers, not directly from the satellites, which may explain the deviance in the Cumberland river, which has high hills around it. Scrounging round the net it appears to be called "assisted GPS" and is designed to overcome problems in cities where direct satellite contact is difficult with mobile devices. Whatever...it seems accurate enough most of the time. I wonder how far offshore it will work?

Anyway..enough prattling. Here's where we are now
Till next time